"The teen films of the time, the John Hughes film, were fun. But there’s a whole other wing of the high school they weren’t going into — the dark, Stephen King wing that nobody wanted to look at. And I think Heathers was refreshing. It was the first time a lot of people lost their dark humor virginity. It’s hard to even remember now that going back then, there were so many television shows and documentaries about the horror of teen suicide that just made it so attractive to commit suicide because you got all this love and adulation. Who can resist! It seemed like I was the only one noticing the humor in it." — Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters.
So maybe not every note is pitch perfect. Perhaps it's never quite as surreal or shocking as it could and probably should be. The musical adaptation of Daniel Waters' dark teen comedy Heathers is a fun Halloween-season ride with too much heart for its own good. It's served up like a top-shelf ice cream sundae from some boutique parlor , topped with fruits, and nuts, and pink sprinkles. Only that's not strawberry syrup on top — It's BLOOD! TEENAGE BLOOD!
Arch, attitudinal performances by the three original Heathers, Chandler (Gia Welch), Duke, (Claire Clauson), and McNamara (Lizzy Hinton) frame the story of Veronica (Brooke Papritz), a basic Bettie whose sweet forgery skills earn her a place at the popular kids table. But life at the top's kind of ugly, bringing the mean girl dominance games into a crisp focus. Enter JD, (Connor Finnerty-Esmonde) the thrift store clad new kid who captures Veronica's teenage fancy and fills her head with ideas about taking revenge on all the high school's exclusive cliques and bullies. Next thing you know, her teen angst bullshit has a bodycount. And because the popular kid murders are all framed as suicides, killing yourself turns into the big teen craze.
Veronica's mounting guilt kicks into overdrive when she plays a key role in humiliating her chubby, unpopular lifelong friend "Martha Dumptruck."
Papritz, who recently played a mumblecore misfit in The Flick at Circuit Playhouse is an awfully upbeat Veronica, but she sings the part beautifully, and in her role as storyteller, keeps the show moving like a freight train. As JD Finnerty-Esmonde struggles with pitch, both in his songs and in his character's tone. He's a charmer, just never quite as dangerous as JD needs to be.
Though set in some alternative version of the American 80's were teen fashion and slang is a sharp, knowing satire of the real thing, Heathers doesn't truck much in nostalgia. The music's all original, and the most effective songs — "Lifeboat," and "Kindergarten Boyfriend" don't go to the leads. As with the film, all these carefully considered pieces combine to make for some pretty substantial teen splatter.
Choreographed production numbers courtesy of director Courtney Oliver and co-choreographer Kim Sanders, stand in nicely for the source material's hard to translate visual surrealism
If you wanted to make a really good 1980's-era movie soundtrack musical you couldn't do better than Pretty in Pink. "Don't You Forget About Me," was the only good song in The Breakfast Club, and don't even get me started on the awfulness of St. Elmo's Fire. But if Pretty in Pink wasn't already a soundtrack it would make a pretty good era-defining mix-tape with terrific cuts by Psychedelic Furs, Suzanne Vega, The Smith's, OMD, New Order, Jesse Johnson, Echo & the Bunnymen and more I can't remember. I mention all this because musical film adaptations are soup of the day, and the nostalgia appeal only goes up when, as with Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the soundtrack includes a healthy dose of vintage top-40. While John Hughes musicals might seem to make more sense to investors, when it comes to teen movie adaptations, Heathers makes more sense on stage. The scary Reagan-era is well represented by this edgy box office flop, that found its misfit audience on cable and hanging out at the video store.
Keep the Flyer Free!
Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.